As action got underway in Madison in August, the Cavaliers broke into the top three corps at the DCI Finals for the first time ever, followed just a tenth of a point behind by the Cadets.
The Blue Devils managed to capture their sixth DCI title, finishing what would have been an undefeated season had they not lost their very first show to the eventual second-place finisher Santa Clara Vanguard.
The Blue Devils win came 10 years after the organization’s first title. In the intervening years, the corps missed out on taking home a gold medal only five times. Many of those years ended with the Devils within tenths of being named World Champion. Making up for those years of close calls, the corps won in 1986 by taking all caption awards during the Finals competition, a feat no one had pulled off since Blue Devils became the first to do so in 1976.
The corps’ 1986 production kicked off with Bill Reddie’s “Channel One Suite,” which, at seven minutes in length, took up more than 60 percent of the corps’ show. The same work kicked off the corps’ 1976 title show, and at the time was the longest musical selection ever played in DCI competition.
Reddie wrote the work for Buddy Rich’s band, and especially as a vehicle to show off Rich’s spectacular drum set technique. The Buddy Rich Band performed the piece for the 1968 live album, “Mercy, Mercy,” recorded at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Rich generally allowed other bands to perform works from his band’s repertoire, but he kept “Channel One Suite” for himself, perhaps because his drum solos on the piece are considered legendary.
Of interest in the Blue Devils’ production, was the corps’ use of North Drums which were last seen in 1976. The tenor drums resembled upside-down ventilation funnels seen on the decks of large ships. They were developed by rock drummer Roger North around 1970, and unlike most drums that are made with wooden shells, North Drums were made with injection-molded polymer resin polystyrene.
1986 Blue Devils
Throughout the first movement, the contra bass brass players deftly duplicated the electric bass part from the work’s original.
The second movement, the suite’s ballad, featured drill formation evolutions that seemed to float across the field as they evolved, accented by the color guard members utilizing mostly-white colored flags with wispy tails that appeared otherworldly when spun. The members of the rifle line each danced with two large white-feathered fans.
For the fast-moving third movement of the suite, five tenor drummers played on regular tenor drums and five others, extracted from the front ensemble, played on the North Drums. It was during this movement that the drum line replicated Buddy Rich’s famous drum solo, with the two different types of tenor drums splitting the parts between Rich’s toms during the 45-second feature.
For the ending of the suite, the guard members spun flags, one in each hand, of a reflective material shimmering with multiple pastel colors. At night, under the lights, they seemed to pop right off the field.
About 45 seconds of Jay Chattaway’s “Conquistador” came next. Chattaway, composer for many of the different “Star Trek” television series, wrote the piece for Maynard Ferguson’s 1977 album of the same name. It was Ferguson’s most commercially successful album, largely due to the inclusion of “Gonna Fly Now” from the movie “Rocky.”
“Conquistador” started out with bugle calls, as if from a bullfight. A lone color guard member waved a bullfight cape and then the corps was into the final selection of its production.
Blue Devils first played “Part 4” from Chick Corea’s “Spanish Fantasy” in 1977 and 1978. The work came off Corea’s “My Spanish Heart” album of 1976, noted for combining jazz-fusion with Latin styles, substantial dramatic brass, and melancholic strings. While synthesizers were prominently used on the album, most of “Spanish Fantasy” is acoustic. Color guard members utilized a combination of flags, hand flags, and wide streamers, all light in color during this piece.
The corps then moved into the beginning of “Part 1” of the suite, the transition provided by the mallet keyboards. For most of the last minute of the show, 12 rhythmic gymnastic ribbons accompanied a short soprano bugle quartet during the brief “Chick Corea Suite,” a combination of original material by corps arranger Wayne Downey and Gene Puerling’s “One More Time, Chuck Corea,” which is a Singers Unlimited song that the corps played in 1981, 1982 and 1983.
This led into a goal line-to-goal line company front that left nothing unscorched in its wake.
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Michael Boo was a member of the Cavaliers from 1975-1977. He has written about the drum corps activity for more than 35 years and serves as a staff writer for various Drum Corps International projects. Boo has written for numerous other publications and has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating.
As an accomplished composer, Boo holds a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in music theory and composition. He resides in Chesterton, Indiana.